Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
Secretary of the State
Dear Secretary Bysiewicz:
You have asked for a formal opinion as to whether Connecticut's "Voter's Bill of Rights" requires municipalities to provide a voting system accessible to the physically disabled in each polling place in non-federal elections, including elections held this year. You also ask whether municipalities must utilize the vote-by-phone voting systems purchased by the state and used in each polling place during the federal elections held in November, 2006.
We conclude that the "Voter's Bill of Rights," in particular Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-236b(a)(9), grants disabled voters the right to vote privately and independently, and requires all polling places to provide a voting system that provides such private and independent access by physically disabled voters. You have the authority under
Section 9-236b of the General Statutes, originally passed in 2002, establishes a “Voter’s Bill of Rights,” which contains a list of certain enumerated rights for each voter in this state. Public Act 04-32 amended the Voter’s Bill of Rights to add, inter alia, the right “to vote independently and in privacy at a polling place, regardless of physical disability.” This addition, now codified at
We are, in this bill before us, adding a couple of new provisions to that list of rights since the passage of the Help America Vote Act, … [including] the right to vote independently and privately in the polling place regardless of any physical disability they may have.
The language in the Voter’s Bill of Rights concerning private and independent voting substantially mirrors § 301(a)(3)(A) of HAVA, which requires that any voting system used in a federal election “be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.” This requirement may be satisfied “through the use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities at each polling place.”
As is clear from the plain language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-236b(a)(9), as well as the cited legislative history, the legislature intended to ensure that physically disabled voters be provided with the same level of accessibility in voting in non-federal elections that they have under HAVA in federal elections. Therefore, we conclude that each polling place in the state must provide a voting system that comports with the requirements of § 9-236b(a)(9) in the non-federal elections to be held this year.1
Although the Voter’s Bill of Rights clearly requires that some provision be made to permit disabled voters to vote privately and independently, the determination whether any particular voting system comports with that requirement is beyond my authority to make.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-238(b); see also Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 9-241 and 9-242 (providing for the Secretary of the State's approval of voting systems submitted by manufacturers for review and establishing certain standards for such approval). Based on these provisions, you have authority to determine whether a voting system is sufficient and suitable to permit private and independent voting as required by the Voter's Bill of Rights. Our understanding is that you have already approved the vote-by-phone system as satisfying this requirement. Alternative machines or systems may be permissible, and can be considered by municipal voting officials, but they would have to obtain your approval before using such alternatives in the election.
In conversations with this Office, you asked what enforcement mechanisms are available in the event that a municipality fails to comply with this requirement. A violation of the Voter's Bill of Rights is enforced by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (
If necessary, the
I trust that this responds to your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance on this or any other matter.
Very truly yours,
1 It is important to note, however, that a violation of the accessibility provision of
2 Any person found by the